On this post I want to explore just how far can or should someone go with maintenance at home. The answers will vary greatly depending on numerous factors. Obviously riding a motorcycle doesn’t mean you can maintain or repair one though. When I rode motocross and competed in Europe I was given a highly modified bike from a place out of California named R&D Motors. This 80cc bike I received had a custom exhaust, bored cylinder, front forks from a 125cc, custom swing arm and rear suspension, high performance carb, etc. The only problem with the bike that we were warned about was that the thing had so much torque, we would have to replace the piston rod bearings every 4 motos. this involved removing the exhaust, carb, head, piston, and getting to the piston bearing on the rod which would just crumble into little pieces as it was removed. At the age of 14 I was performing this maintenance task every other week myself. My father worked with me the first few times and then just allowed me to handle it from then on. My stepfather owned his own BMW motorcycle repair shop for 21 years and I would often hang around his shop as well. My father and I also did some classic car restoration. We built a 57 Thunderbird convertible and a 72 Mustang Mach I fastback from the ground up. We broke them down to the frame/unibody and began rebuilding from there.
Not everyone has the Motorsport history and experiences that I have had. This has been a tremendous help in being able to perform my own maintenance without concern on both our bikes and cars. Even if you don’t have the background it doesn’t mean you cant do this stuff yourself, it just means you will need to read the service manual thoroughly for whatever task it is your wanting to perform. It also means you might have to spend some money on special tools for different tasks. I always figure it this way: If someone built it, I can take it apart and put it back together. If I screw it up, I can haul it into the shop and pay them to fix my screw up. I would have had to pay them to do what I was trying to do anyways so what the hell, I’ll try it myself first.
Another point before we delve into details is Warranty Work. I am a firm believer in letting the dealership repair the bike if its under warranty. The distinction needs to be made about the difference between maintenance and warranty work. Maintenance is NOT covered by your warranty. The warranty covers mechanical and electrical malfunctions and breakages. If something breaks and you’ve got a warranty, let them fix it. I would also recommend purchasing an extended warranty. It’s worth it.
Maintenance has to be paid for if you take your bike in for it. This means things like oil changes, lubrication, air filter cleaning/change, tire replacement, brakes, spark plugs replacement, etc. are not covered. You can purchase maintenance plans and even tire replacement plans if you want which will cover a specified amount of whatever as outlined by the plan. I didn’t purchase these for either of our bikes so I cant comment on their details.
Now lets get into some of the points that could affect the level of maintenance you want to perform or even if doing this is for you to begin with.
Personal mechanical ability– Everyone has varying degrees of mechanical ability. Again, personal history in this area will play a large role in how comfortable you are in mechanics. I’m not gonna say you cant learn if you don’t have a history, it just might take a bit longer to learn details as to the what, why, when, and how’s of maintenance. No matter what level your at, get a service manual for your specific bike.
Time- Maintenance takes time. It can take even longer if you haven’t performed some of the tasks before. My first oil change on my Street Glide took 1.5 hours. I had to keep referring to the manual for information even though I know the principles of performing an oil change, and I didn’t have a process established for this bike. Now I am able to do an oil change in 30 minutes. Maintenance will directly take time away from your day that you may not want to give up. That’s understandable. Remember though, maintenance is crucial to keeping your bike on the road, it must be performed, and if you cannot or don’t want to take the time to do it, then take your bike to the shop and have it done.
Patience– This one could go hand in hand with time. It can become very frustrating at times when performing maintenance. The level of maintenance will also directly affect your patience. For instance, steering head bearing lubrication is very clean, easy, and takes about 5 minutes. Oil changes on the other hand require laying on your side to get under the bike, messy oil, more processes, and more time. Your patience can play hard into this if its 90+ degrees outside and your sweating profusely trying to get it done. If you get angry or frustrated easily then self maintenance may not be for you.
Tools– Most regular maintenance will not require much in the way of special tools. Some special tools might make it easier to perform the maintenance though. You may have to buy tools to do some tasks and it wont cost all that much. An oil filter wrench, Torx sets, Spark Plug Gap Gauge, are some of the special tools most people don’t have laying around. Again, the level of maintenance will directly affect what tools you might need. Also be sure to separate maintenance tool requirements from repair tool requirements. Maintenance will require far less specialized tools than repairs.
Money– Unfortunately most of us are not self made millionaires, lottery winners, or inheritors of expansive European estates. It’s convenient to take your bike in and pay someone to do it all for you if you can afford it. With my finances, if I didn’t perform my own maintenance, I would not be riding a Harley. At dealership prices I simply cannot afford their cost for maintenance. However, if you read my post about oil changes, the first oil change you do can save you enough money to buy most of the tools you’ll need to perform your own regular maintenance for years to come. Thus saving you lots of money down the road. You’ll have to decide for yourself if the savings are worth dealing with some of the other points this post is covering. Either way your gonna be spending money, just far less by doing it yourself.
Space- You gotta have the space to do this stuff. Not only that but you need to have space to store the tools and materials. This usually means shelves and/or toolboxes and space for those as well. There are many variables on the issue of space. Some people wont mind working outside in the open on their driveway while others might have a nice shop in a separate building. No matter what the situation, it will take some space both to perform the work and store the supplies.
Health- This could possibly be the most important reason NOT to perform your own maintenance. Since regular maintenance is a must, you wont be able to let it go. That means whether its 110 degrees outside or 40 degrees outside, if your gonna ride, you’ve got to do it. Unless you have a heated or air conditioned space, you could get over heated or super cold very quickly. This could be a health concern. There is a lot of bending, twisting, getting up and down, laying on your side, etc. involved as well. You can get scraped, cut, and bruised if your not careful. You might have a reaction to certain oils or cleaners used for maintenance. Chemical cleaners could cause skin or inhalation reactions for some people. If there are any health concerns then don’t do it, your health is more valuable than doing the work yourself. Let someone else do it and live to ride another day.
Desire & Self Enjoyment- I personally enjoy doing the work myself. It’s something I look forward to doing as crazy as it may sound. It’s nice to take my time, enjoy the day, and wash my bike afterwards. Usually one of my sons or Margaret spends time helping me or just hanging out with me while I work. I value that time with them and appreciate that they take time to spend with me working on my bike. I also like knowing without question that the work is performed correctly and thoroughly upon completion. It gives me a chance to go over the bike, check for loose bolts, fixtures, or possible wear on parts. For me it’s another way to enjoy all aspects of having a bike. You may not feel the same way. If working on it becomes a chore that you just hate to perform, you probably shouldn’t do it. Mistakes could be made, improper procedures performed, incorrect fluid/lube levels or torque specifications might be overlooked, just to get the chore over with. It can also become easy to put it off for another week if you get that sick feeling when you think about having to do it. All of this could lead to engine damage or worse depending on what type of work you perform. Do it because you want to, not because you have to.